British Columbia

SFU students create colouring book to help refugees feel at home

What started as a student project at SFU turned into an accessible resource for refugee families arriving in Surrey, B.C.

The authors wanted to make the book whimsical and fun as well as informative

Fatima Fadaie, 5, colours inside a book created by SFU students for refugees like herself. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Last January, Renmart Buhay, a student at Simon Fraser University joined students from different faculties in an interdisciplinary program called Health Change Lab, which is aimed at addressing a social or environmental problem in Surrey.

Buhay teamed up with three other students, Alanah Lam, Jordon Fernandez and Adrian Genge, to focus on the social determinants of health for refugees arriving in the city. The students were interested in how to create a sense of belonging, identity, and well-being for someone entering a new culture. 

They students worked with existing refugee resources, refugee hosts, and refugees themselves to gain knowledge about the experience. Finally, they came up with the idea of creating a colouring book to help refugees. 

Renmart Buhay, 23, is one of the creators of the colouring book. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"A colouring book was definitely not the first thing that came to mind," says Lam, "[At first,] everybody was looking for more high tech and more complicated solutions to these problems."

But eventually they concluded the resource had to be accessible regardless of the person's access to technology.

Mazen Al Dukih, 8, colours in the book while his mother participates in a monthly meeting at Immigrant Services Society of B.C. in Surrey. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The students noted a colouring book would be a fun and accessible medium to provide information. It was also an opportunity to include refugee representation in the story.

The story, written in both English and Arabic, follows three main characters. Two are young Syrian refugees, Leila and Amir, who come to Canada in the first scene. 

The third character is Anna, a Canadian host who shows the children around Surrey. 

On the left, a page in the book where the Canadian host, Anna, shows the main characters, Leila and Amir, the City Centre Library in Surrey. On the right, SFU students Alanah Lam, left, Renmart Buhay, and Jordon Fernandez, co-creators of Welcome to Surrey. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
The book is written in both English and Arabic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Buhay says the authors wanted to make the book whimsical and fun as well as informative, so they incorporated elements of magic like a flying carpet that they use to travel to different locations. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The story was written by the students using information from interviews with people who had lived experience.

The artwork was created by 14 different students, some from Emily Carr and some from SFU. 

Alanah Lam, 23, says if a printer could provide free printing they could make the book a free resource. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

After the semester ended, the students continued to work on the book. They finished in Sept. 2019.

On Oct. 24, Welcome to Surrey had its official book launch at the Made by SFU Marketplace. The team printed 400 copies for distribution.

Jordon Fernandez, 23, says he would love to see the same project done in other cities that have larger numbers of newcomers than Surrey. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The students have now distributed all the printed copies to their community partners throughout the city to use as a resource for refugees. 

Lam, a psychology major, says the project was created to be simple and sustainable. The books are sold for $10. The students don't profit from the book sales. Rather, the $10 goes toward printing two books, one of which will be donated to a family or settlement organization — a buy-one-give-one model. 

Left to right: Fatima Fadaie, 5, Diyaa Al Mohdi, 7, Samer Al Dukih, 10, and Mazen Al Dukih, 8, play and use the colouring books at Immigrant Support Services of B.C. in Surrey. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"A team goal was to put something out there that could make some sort of impact and break through the information overload," says Lam.

"We wanted to create something that is intuitive and fun. Something that makes them feel more connected to — and more at home — in Surrey." 

From left to right: Renmart Buhay, Jordon Fernandez, and Alanah Lam are pictured inside the Surrey City Centre Library on Wednesday, November 20th, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)


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